SUMMERNATS 16 in 2003 was a massive one, with legendary names like Hadfield, Fitzpatrick, Ostric, Course, Lawry and Grima dominating that year’s Elite awards. However, Benny Gatt’s incredible custom Lincoln Zephyr beat them all out for the coveted People’s Choice gong.
First published in the January 2021 issue of Street Machine. Photos: SM Archives
“I won Top Custom, took out second Special Effects Paint and made it into the Top 20, but winning People’s Choice was very special,” Benny says today. “It means the most to me because the entrants and spectators vote for it; it’s one of my favourite trophies.”
Over the past 17 years, this radical, belly-scraping custom has picked up a host of tinware and has been to just about every corner of the country – even on a boat over to Tassie. It also caught legendary US customiser George Barris’s eye when Benny brought it out for MotorEx Sydney in 2015. Not bad for a dyed-in-the-wool drag racer – Benny holds ANDRA licence #25 and recently celebrated 50 years in the sport.
What’s even more impressive is that his Lincoln, fittingly dubbed DUMPED, was built to a show-winning standard in just under 11 months. It was an incredible effort by a dedicated crew, as the body came without a chassis, driveline, dash or interior!
“I built this as a car that you can just jump in and go for a cruise – while turning lots of heads,” says Benny. “Everyone stops me for photos. The police even pulled me over once so they could take photos”
The car’s first stop was with Terry Wood at Camden County Customs, where a 1954 Customline chassis was prepared. The rear leaf springs remained, minus a few leaves, with a pair of control arms to keep it centred. Up front they went for a Jaguar double A-arm with power rack-and-pinion steering. The external shock design of the Jag front made it a natural fit for airbags.
With the body mounted and Air Ride ’bags aired out, the sills were still four inches off the deck – a fair bit higher than desired. Terry had no choice but to chop the floor out and channel an already channelled car. Now, at full drop, nothing hits the ground, but nothing thicker than a few millimetres fits under there.
At cruising height, DUMPED is still super low. The key to keeping it driveable was to raise everything up so that nothing hung below the sills. This required custom headers and exhaust.
When your other car is a 2000hp, blown, methanol-injected, Supercharged Outlaws XA coupe, you might think DUMPED would be packing some serious heat under its long hood. Nuh. “I wanted to keep the car as something you could just jump in and cruise,” says Benny. Accordingly, its 351 Clevo is healthy rather than hot ’n’ heavy. It’s filled with lots of good bits and includes a pair of heads that Benny tickled up himself. Rounding out the driveline is an FMX trans and a nine-inch rear end with LTD disc brakes. Even the 17-inch billets and sensible rubber is all about effortless cruising.
Benny’s Burgundy Kandy Lincoln parked alongside Andrew Mitchell’s gold example at MotorEx Sydney in 2015. The duo certainly grabbed George Barris’s attention, as he spent plenty of time going over them, with Andrew’s car picking up the George Barris Kustom Award
Other than being channelled, the radical-looking Deco Rides body is stock. “It was very good body-wise,” says Mike Gregorace from Bonnyrigg Smash. “Basically all it needed was to have the door gaps fine-tuned.”
Laying on the HOK Burgundy Kandy was a completely different matter. Candies are tough to spray at the best of times, but the Lincoln’s continuous curves and complex combination of horizontal and vertical surfaces elevated the job to nightmare status. Nonetheless, the finish is sensational and still stops people in their tracks.
The biggest changes to DUMPED since debuting in 2003 have been inside. Gone is the black velour and white piping, with Matt Gilkes from Inside Rides retrimming the cabin in light tan leather. “I didn’t really like the black,” says Benny. “The new interior is a lot nicer”
The centrepiece of the 100 per cent custom interior is the ’54 Cusso gauge cluster grafted into the bespoke dash. Keeping Benny comfortable during those many road miles is a cut-down, twin-tilt Fairlane bench seat. There’s also a TV screen and an audio system for cruising tunes, as well as remote start and remote airbag control.
“I’ve done heaps of kays in the car, around 35,000,” Benny says. “I’ve driven it all over the place. As well as heaps of weddings, I must’ve done at least 30 to 35 formals. The kids get a real kick out of rocking up in the Lincoln. For one of the weddings, I drove it down to Melbourne.
“So many shows; so many good memories in this car,” he continues. “A couple that stick out are a promo I did for Chic Henry in Canberra, who took us to a nice restaurant for our trouble, and the other was the big opening of Sydney Dragway. The Lincoln was the lead car on the opening parade lap, and I had the sports minister in the passenger seat! That was a pretty big deal.”
Despite a number of very generous offers to buy the car, Benny has steadfastly refused to part with his jaw-dropping ride. “I enjoy the car too much,” he says. “I just love driving the thing – I’ll never sell it.”
Benny credits his late wife Christine for making it all happen. When Deco Rides announced it was selling the fibreglass bodies, Benny mentioned that he’d like to build one, so Christine quietly got Deco to send her a bunch of info before organising to get one done for Benny. “It was more her idea than mine,” he says
SLICED ’N’ DICED
BARELY recognisable as a ’39 Lincoln, DUMPED’s body is based on SCRAPE, a famous American custom built by Terry Cook, who then founded Deco Rides to sell ’glass reproductions of SCRAPE’s body.
The roofline is 8in lower, the rear guards have been stretched 6in and both the front and rear guards widened 2½in, with the fronts housing frenched ’39 Ford headlights. The bonnet is 1in lower, extended and peaked at the front. There’s a ’41 Zephyr grille and nosecone grafted between the ’39 guards, and the rear bar is based on a shortened Kaiser unit.
1939 LINCOLN ZEPHYR
Paint: HOK Burgundy Kandy
Block: 351ci Cleveland
Heads: Super Flow
Gearbox: FMX three-speed
Diff: LTD disc-brake 9in
Front: Jaguar; Air Ride airbags
Rear: Leaf springs; Air Ride airbags
Seats: US Fairlane
Steering wheel: Billet Specialties
Gauges: 1954 Customline
RIMS & RUBBER
Wheels: Billet Specialties 17×9 (f & r)
Tyres: 225/45ZR17 (f & r)